President Obama’s plan to bulldoze a sensitive Chicago lakefront park in order to build his presidential library is meeting with outrage — but not from environmental groups.
Even as local environmentalists say they will not challenge the library in spite of concerns, others are accusing Mr. Obama of hypocrisy, pointing to his record of aggressively blocking badly needed development elsewhere in the name of ecological protection.
Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid, whose coal-producing northwest Colorado community is threatened with economic devastation as a result of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, said the decision shows that Mr. Obama doesn’t play by his own rules.
“Apparently, Obama is a radical environmentalist, until it is inconvenient or applies to him,” said Mr. Kinkaid. “He has used the [Environmental Protection Agency] to pound down good-paying American jobs for almost eight years. Nowhere is that more in evidence than in coal country.”
Instead of building the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago, said Mr. Kinkaid, “I suggest that he locate his library in Wyoming. He has single-handedly killed the entire state, and they could use the jobs.”
Boosting the economic prospects of Chicago’s South Side was cited by Mr. Obama as a reason for constructing the 20-acre center in Jackson Park, a 543-acre parcel bordering Lake Michigan.
The Obama Foundation and Mr. Obama announced Friday that the park had been selected from several proposed sites for the $500 million project, which is scheduled to be completed in 2021. A press conference with civic leaders is slated for Wednesday.
“Michelle and I are thrilled that the Obama Presidential Center will be developed in the heart of Chicago’s South Side, a community we call home and that means the world to us,” said Mr. Obama in a Friday statement.
“With a center in Jackson Park, not only will we be able to affect local change, but we can attract the world to this historic neighborhood, whose rich cultural heritage dates back to the 1893 World’s Fair,” he said. “We are proud that the center will help spur development in an urban area and we can’t wait to forge new ways to give back to the people of Chicago who have given us so much.”
In a Friday analysis of the two sites, however, Crain’s Chicago said that Jackson Park is “part of a protected lakefront, meant to be free and open for the use of all citizens. The presence of the Obama library violates that notion.”
Juanita Irizarry, executive director of Friends of the Parks, said Friday that her group was “thrilled” by the announcement even though “we continue to believe that it should not be located on existing park land.”
“There is plenty of vacant land in the area that could accommodate the library,” Ms. Irizarry told Crain’s. “However, Friends of the Parks will not sue over the issue.”
Her announcement came as something of a surprise given that just six weeks earlier, filmmaker George Lucas abandoned plans to build the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art at a nearby lakefront location after a two-year legal battle with Friends of the Parks.
Mr. Lucas, who had the support of city officials, had hoped to build the $750 million museum on a property used as a parking lot.
“Actual grass — the kind people normally associate with parks — will be torn up to build the Obama library and museum, which is expected to encompass 20 acres,” said the Crain’s report. “The Lucas museum’s proposed site was an asphalt parking lot next to Soldier Field with a killer lake view.”
Kent Holsinger, who runs a prominent natural resources law firm in Denver, accused Mr. Obama of “stunning hypocrisy.”
He compared the move to the Obama administration’s decision to relax restrictions on killing raptors, birds and bats on wind energy farms while taking a hard line on species affected by oil-and-gas development.
“We see a similarity with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service turning a blind eye to the devastation that wind turbines can have on birds and bats,” said Mr. Holsinger. “Meanwhile, oil and gas is vilified over bogus claims about sage grouse.”
Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the free market Competitive Enterprise Institute, said he was “not surprised that environmental pressure groups are willing to give President Obama’s library a pass.”
“Most environmental laws and regulations are flexible enough so that the powerful, if sufficiently politically correct, can ignore the restrictions that apply to regular people,” Mr. Ebell said. “For example, the Ivanpah solar facility every year kills thousands of birds, many of them protected by law, but the big environmental groups don’t say a thing.”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former White House chief of staff for President Obama, cheered the selection of the Jackson Park property, adding that he would create a “forum” for economic development that would “maximize the positive impact on area communities and residents.”
“The Obama Presidential Center, when complete, will offer tremendous educational, cultural and economic benefits to the City and its residents,” said Mr. Emanuel in a Friday statement.
Mr. Emanuel had also backed bringing the Lucas Museum to Chicago’s lakefront. After Mr. Lucas pulled the project, the mayor decried the environmental lawsuit as a “mistake” and said that it had cost the city over $1 billion in investment.
“And we’re left with a parking lot in the middle of the museum campus. If you go into the future, that’s gonna be a parking lot. Not a museum and not five acres of open land. And it’s not like this is a prairie. It’s a parking lot,” Mr. Emanuel said in a June 27 article in the Chicago Sun-Times.
After scrapping plans for building his museum in Chicago, Mr. Lucas is considering locations in Los Angeles and the Bay Area in California.
“No one benefits from continuing their seemingly unending litigation to protect a parking lot,” said Mr. Lucas in a June 24 press release. “The actions initiated by Friends of the Parks and their recent attempts to extract concessions from the city have effectively overridden approvals received from numerous democratically elected bodies of government.”
Two weeks earlier, Friends of the Parks officials had announced that the group would not drop the Lucas lawsuit.
“We do believe that the Lucas Museum has a place in Chicago for all to enjoy, but not at the expense of one our most precious public resources,” said the group in a June 10 statement.